There’s a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. One thing I know I’m most grateful for is the food on my plate. Yes, I may be biased since nutrition and health are my two obsessions, but I know many would agree that they are thankful for healthy alternatives, especially around the holidays.

When the holiday hunger cravings start rolling in, it can be difficult to put a stop to them. Statistics have found that the average American consumes thousands of calories during their Thanksgiving meal.

This year, instead of that several thousand calorie plate of turkey smothered in gravy, candied yams, buttery mashed potatoes, sweet corn and pumpkin and pecan pie — try some healthier alternatives. Knowing the Thanksgiving nutrition basics can be a real eye-opener and help you decide what to choose at mealtime.

The following dietitian tips have all of the taste of a great Thanksgiving meal, but less fat, calories and sodium. Trying out these options also saves you from the feeling of sleepiness that often follows a large meal. So try to serve up a fresh approach to healthy eating this Thanksgiving.

  • There’s no getting around turkey on Thanksgiving. Turkey is a lean protein and provides selenium — an antioxidant or molecule that captures potentially harmful substances and removes them from your body — and contains no saturated fats. Avoid processed turkey meat, and instead of stuffing the bird with bread stuffing, try stuffing it with vegetables and herbs or fresh fruit. Baste your turkey with low-fat turkey broth to make the bird tender and moist. If you must use gravy, use a reduced-calorie or low-fat version.
  • Cranberries- the little red antioxidant! Use fresh cranberries to cut the sugar in traditional cranberry sauce recipes by at least half.
  • Pumpkins are in season and full of vitamin A. Instead of using canned pumpkin, you can make your own puree by roasting a small pumpkin and then using a blender or food processor to finish the puree. Another great way to serve pumpkin on your menu is to roast a small pumpkin like you would an acorn squash and serve whole. This makes a tasty vegetable option and the cute little pumpkins make a great table decoration as well!
  • Combine a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables into a salad or side dish. A walnut, cranberry-apple spinach salad is a great combination. A favorite of mine is to roast Brussel sprouts and stir them together with pomegranate, creating a perfect sweet and sour mixture.
  • Adding fresh mint or basil to your fresh fruit is a great idea to bring a lot of flavor to a simple side-dish.
  • Save yourself some work when making mashed potatoes and leave the skins on. Potato skin provides fiber and potassium.  If you are feeling adventurous, try making a mashed sweet potato or cauliflower recipe!
  • Skip the idea of “trying a little bit of everything.” Instead, make your plate with a protein, a vegetable, a fruit option and one starch or grain. Once you get through these servings, if you are not yet full, fill up on more protein and vegetables.
  • Eat the foods that you love. Since it is the holidays, there will be some homemade goodies that only your grandma or mom knows how to master. Don’t deprive yourself from these choices, however, be mindful and remember moderation. If you can’t wait to try a slice of pie, have a slice, but cut out the whipped topping or ice cream.
  • Instead of sugary alcoholic beverages, fruit punches or beer, try having infused water available. The benefit of infused water is that it looks and tastes great. Also, you can make it 72 hours ahead of time in order for the water to absorb the flavors of the fruit.
  • Eat a rainbow of foods!  The more color and fresh variety on your plate, the more you are consuming a larger variety of different nutrients.

Be thankful and grateful for your healthy plate this holiday season!

About the Author:

Jessica Cicalese, RD, is a dietitian for Aramark Dining Services at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, who focuses on promoting healthy eating and wellness education in an academic setting. She oversees all aspects of nutrition for USF Dining, from food allergy labeling and preventing cross-contamination, to ensuring healthy options for students with special dietary needs.

Ms. Cicalese received her clinical and food service management training at WakeMed Hospital in Cary, NC, at several assisted living facilities and through the Pinellas County Health Department.  As a certified Zumba instructor at Seriously Fun Fitness Studio in St. Petersburg, Fla., Ms. Cicalese strives to guide individuals toward a lifestyle of overall better health and well-being.

Jessica Cicalese may be contacted at: [email protected]

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise, program or hyperlinks mentioned in this blog post.